Analyzing the effects of social media on the hospitality industry
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Analyzing the Effects of Social Media on the
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Seth, Gaurav, "Analyzing the Effects of Social Media on the Hospitality Industry" (2012). UNLV Theses/Dissertations/Professional
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Analyzing the Effects of Social Media on the Hospitality Industry
Bachelor of Electronics Engineering
Pune University, India
A professional paper submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the
Master of Science in Hotel Administration
William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Chair: Dr. Robert Woods
With the increase in the number of internet users the use of social media has grown over
the past decade. And the usage has progressively grown from individuals to businesses. Many
organizations today proactively use social media as a vehicle to reach out to millions of
prospective and repeat customers. Businesses in the service industry, such as hospitality, that
engage in constant communication with guests are drastically changing their marketing strategies
by choosing this new age interactive media over traditional practices of marketing and public
relations. This paper will take into account the changes from a consumer’s perspective with
respect to the various channels of social media that have impacted their purchasing decisions and
The purpose of this paper is to study the effects of social media on hospitality marketing
strategies from the perspective of a consumer.
Statement of objective
The intent of this study is not to quantify how many hospitality businesses actively use
social media, rather it is to explore the areas and functions these businesses use social media for,
and understand how consumers perceive these new vehicles of communication. The study will
bring out a consumer’s perspective of the advantages of social media over traditional marketing
The service industry today is relying heavily on social media to reach out to consumers.
It is prudent for the hospitality industry to realize this fact and adapt quickly to these changes for
their marketing and communication. With generation-Z becoming part of the work force and a
growing consumer base, it is only reasonable to conclude that businesses that use social media to
their advantage are the ones that will flourish in the near future.
The main limitation of this study is that it is only from the perspective of a consumer and
from secondary data analysis of the literature review. Since no primary data is collected from
any of the hospitality businesses, this study may not be able to indicate any quantifiable or
tangible gains that they enjoy from choosing social media over traditional marketing methods.
Social Media has changed the way people around the globe communicate with one
another. However social networking has existed right from the onset of humanity. The concept
of social networking has evolved, much like other innovations, and is becoming increasingly
sophisticated with advancements in technology (Edosomwan, Prakasan, Kouame, Watson, &
Seymour, 2011). We cannot study social media without understanding social networking.
Putting it simply, social media is forms of electronic communication through which users
create share information online through texts, pictures, audio and video. What started with
transmitting and receiving messages over long distances in the 1700s using a device called the
telegraph has developed into a phenomena where social networking and messaging tools such as
Google Buzz enable users to share links, photos, videos, status messages and comments
organized in “conversations” and visible in the user’s inbox (Ritholz, 2010). Hence social media
can be regarded as a 21st century version of networking that uses internet as a medium to reach
out. Since social media reaches huge numbers of people far and wide (Hartshorn, 2010) it has
emerged as a very effective business tool to engage with consumers and thereby build a brand
name by continuous and prompt correspondence.
Social media has become a preferred inexpensive marketing tool that encourages twoway communication between businesses and consumers, thus giving the latter a freedom like
never before. With customers reacting and expressing their views on public domain, social
media has become more than a mere marketing tool. It has become a channel that allows
interaction and gives companies an opportunity to address the problems and concerns of their
customers, which if done effectively, contributes in building the brand (Carraher, Buchanan, &
Puia, 2010). In the present economic times where many businesses are cutting their marketing
budgets, most successful hotels are also shifting from traditional marketing to social media as a
means to communicate with consumers, build their brand and generate higher ROI for every
marketing dollar they spend. Unlike traditional channels of marketing social media gives
updated real time facts about a business such as the number of Facebook fans and likes, Twitter
followers and Youtube views. Hotels can track the number of conversations taking place over a
new product or service offered by them and can immediately respond to reviews, comments and
feedback. Most successful hotels are finding innovative ways to integrate social media with
traditional marketing methods stay ahead in the race (Lanz, Fischhof, & Lee, 2010).
Social media is a catch phrase that describes technology that facilitates interactive
information, user-created content and collaboration (Elefant, 2011, p. 4). Examples of social
networks include Wikipedia (for reference), Facebook (for social activity), YouTube (for video
sharing), and TripAdvisor (for travel networks)
A network where the participants share a part of their own resources and content offered
by the network which are accessible by other peers directly, without passing intermediary entities
By definition, social media is the combination of various internet tools that enable users
to generate, exchange and modify content continuously (Noone, Mcguire, & Rohlfs, 2011). As
of December 2011 the online social networking application Facebook had a total of 845 million
active users, out of which 425 million used Facebook mobile products (Facebook, 2011). To put
this number to perspective if all the Facebook users from around the world were to unite and
form a country, it would be the third most populous country in the world, next to only China and
India! At the same time 60 hours of video were uploaded every minute on the video-sharing
website YouTube (Youtube, 2011). The average number of Tweets people sent per day on social
networking and microblogging website Twitter during February 2011 was 140 million
(Twittercounter, 2011). Twitter also reported a whopping 182% increase in number of mobile
users over the previous year. If these figures are anything to go by it clearly means that social
media is here to stay. Social media today is being embraced not only by teenagers but also
members of generation X who will soon become the biggest chunk of the spending population,
as well as by members of Generation Y who are on the brink of joining the workforce (Kaplan &
Haenlein, 2010). Improving economic conditions in developing countries has led to a significant
rise in the number of people with access to the internet, which results in an increased
participation in social media sites (Violino, 2011).
A huge contributing factor is the growth of cell phone owners with instant and easy
access to social media. It is thus only logical to believe that businesses today, irrespective of the
industry, cannot ignore the huge potential of social media. Before the advent of social media
consumers relied on companies for information, and marketing & PR managers of these
companies would selectively put forth only what they needed to publicize. Today with websites
like Yelp, Urbanspoon and Tripadvisor more people follow what the customers say about a
business. According to Pew Research more people are relying on sources they trust such as
social media reviews made by their friends, family and colleagues rather than trusting
commercially driven institutions such as news broadcasting agencies and advertisers. Hence,
being truthful and genuine on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Twitter can
help a business build a huge base of loyal customers (Lanz et al., 2010).
Social Media vs. Traditional Media
The one point that differentiates social media from traditional media is user participation.
Like traditional media social media serves as a vehicle to reach out to and inform consumers;
however it is only social media that allows consumers to participate and propagate their views.
According to the Forrester Research on social media approximately half of adults who go online
take part in social networking. This number has a significant implication on businesses who want
access to data rich information. Marketing companies use customized data mining software that
enable them to keep a track of consumer behavior, spending pattern and satisfaction ratings.
These findings are used to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns in terms of ROI
and other performance indicators (Kasavana, 2008).
Social Media & Hospitality Industry
The parameters of social networking websites possess several unique implications for the
hospitality industry including guests, staff, and management. These sites provide a platform for a
rating system that can be used to generate, monitor, and evaluate reputation and image of the
business. Online consumer-generated content is perceived as highly credible and in fact, more so
than information attributed to the hospitality entity (Starkov & Mechoso, 2008). Hospitality
company participation in online social networking has been shown to be a cost-effective means
for interaction and engagement with potential clients. Participation in these websites provides
businesses with direct access to active users without the need to adding any additional hardware,
or software. A social networking site that is easily accessible, straightforward, and appealing
enables participants to become engaged in unique ways. It comes as no surprise that many hotels,
restaurants and travel business have entered the social network space. Hospitality businesses are
proactively interacting with their customers by coming up with innovative customized solutions
and much responsive and prompt customer service (Kasavana, Nusair, & Teodosic,
2010).Online consumer reviews play a big part in the choice of hotel and travel consumers make
With a rise in the number of websites (like Yelp, TripAdvisor and social networking sites
such as Facebook, MySpace, etc.) that give potential consumers an opportunity to look up
reviews by other real consumers, the way information is perceived today has changed
considerably. Making a unique social network that allows guests to create a profile and share
opinions, feelings, stories, photos, etc. can be a source of competitive advantage or disadvantage.
If a guest decides to participate in an online network, shares a testimonial or recounts an
experience or downloads content, others in the network are likely to be affected by the opinion of
the postings. More so than the content contained at a company specific or industry related web
site (Green, 2009). Another networking and communication tool that has become popular is
blogging. The Travel and Tourism Industry today is faced with consequences that blogs have not
only positive impacts but also negative ones, if not managed properly (Thevenot, 2007).
Any individual can upload content in the form of images, audio or video for others to
respond and comment, which forms the basis of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 has given popularity to user
generated content (UGC) where information is gathered from different online sources all of
which collaborate to form the final source (Cox, Burgess, Sellitto, & Buultjens 2009). An
effective means to benefit from this trend is to carefully follow the comments that are posted
relating to your business. Research has proven that hotels that engage their customers via social
media get their customers to spend more, have higher repeat clientele, and get more referrals
from their guests. However good, bad, or ugly, it is vital that no comment goes unnoticed
because for every benefit a hotel rakes in with positive feedback, suggestions and tracking
consumers it can be on the receiving end of unfair criticism and negative publicity if it leaves
important issues unaddressed (Kasavana, 2008).
Social Media & Marketing
In today’s time any aspect of a business that deals with communicating with the
consumers has social media as an integral part. Be it marketing, branding, PR, customer service
or any other function of a business that requires you to reach out, social media plays a vital role.
(Berkowitch, 2010). However before taking a plunge one of the key questions most businesses
ask is how to measure the ROI of social media. According to Stelzner (2010), close 90% of
marketers are using social media to market their businesses out of which 65% have just started or
only a couple of months into it. Out of the ones who are currently using social media, almost
more than half are on social media for more than 6 hours per week while 12.5% spend more than
twenty hours per week. Going by the trends companies that have just started using social media
spend little time compared to ones who have been on it for a while. In terms of the benefits most
businesses cite brand awareness and publicity as the highest return followed by an increase in
foot traffic which was followed by finding new business partners, rise in search engine rankings
and generating leads.
Mobile Social Media
Considering that nine out of every ten Americans today have mobile phones, out of
which thirty three percent are smart phones it is only reasonable to acknowledge that most
companies in U.S. are either already engaged or are planning to enter in mobile marketing
(Kaplan, 2012). From ‘Palm VII’- the first mobile device to offer location based service that
came out in 1999 to the launch of the iphone in June 2007 that exploded the mobile marketing
scene there has been tremendous growth in this sector. A new form of mobile marketing was
coined known as mobile social media. With the iphone and droid giving users access to over
250,000 applications companies such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Google latitude, etc. that
extensively use the ‘checking-in’ feature that notify other users and give businesses an
opportunity to continuously track and market based on an individual’s location. Companies use
the unique characteristics of mobile social media in areas such as market research,
communication, relationship development/ loyalty programs and sales & promotions.
The scenario in developing countries is very different from the US where ninety percent
of the population has access to both devices. In the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China)
countries, mobile ownership exceeds PC ownership by as much as four times (Kaplan, 2012).
Even globally mobile connectivity has a much higher penetration. According to the Pew
Research (2007), the primary mode for internet access worldwide by 2020 would be through
mobile devices. The way technology is shaping up, we might see the mobile phone as a single
utility device that integrates all our daily needs. It may not be possible to predict the future of
mobile social media with utmost certainty but going by the numbers of one of the market leaders
-Foursquare that was founded in 2009 and has a net worth between $500 million and $1 billion
in just three years it is only rational to conclude that it will only move forward.
Although most hospitality businesses have embraced social media, or are in process of
doing so, the whole idea of reaching out to your consumers via online social networks is
relatively new to the hospitality business, and in fact to the marketing world as a whole
(Kasavana et al., 2010). Hotels—big and small, luxury and economy, independent and chain—
are coming to grips with the new age consumer. They are finding ways to reach out via newer
ways and channels and they are—as all companies should be—listening to reviews,
conversations, and mentions of their brand. It is almost impossible to make each one of your
guests feel like a VIP. But it is easy to watch, listen, and pay close attention to what customers
are saying (McKay, 2010). Technology has given businesses luxuries to do things that were
never possible in the past. While the intent of these advancements is to give businesses and users
a positive experience there are several risks associated with going online. Statistics keep
indicating at the advantages of social media however the exact quantifiable costs and benefits yet
In the previous literature review section descriptions of various social media were made
and the potential and current uses of these for marketing and brand management were illustrated.
In this section of the paper information presented in the literature review are used to form an
argument about and to draw conclusions upon, how customers perceive the use of social media
This research paper was compiled by comparing a variety of research from academic
journal articles and other sources of research-intensive literature.
Social Media - the new age Word-Of-Mouth
According to Dichter (1996), word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful tools used by
advertisers to market their brand. And social media, due to its inherent functionality, provides a
great platform for consumer testimonials. The success of a message depends on the genuineness
of the comment as perceived by the reader. If readers are convinced that the testimonial is by a
real consumer- someone who has not been endorsed by the company for promotion, then they
build a higher confidence in the brand and are more likely to form a stronger bond. The rise in
the use of Internet as a medium for marketing has given birth to applications such as viral
marketing whereby marketers reach out to buyers using peer-to-peer communication. P-2-P is
similar to word-of-mouth however since it uses internet, information is propagated exponentially
that reaches large numbers of buyers in a very short span of time, and hence is a preferred cost
saving strategy used by marketers (Dobele, Toleman, and Beverland, 2005). Since content
sharing provides benefits to both the message senders and receivers, buyers encourage their
friends to engage in the sharing process as well, thereby multiplying the total number of
participants. According to Wilker (2007) 83% of travellers used the internet to research or book
their travel in the past one year, out of which about 77% had referred to consumer reviews to
arrive at their final decision. Thus social media serves as a powerful tool to spread word-ofmouth as a viral communication.
After a careful review of the literature on the use of social media among businesses an
argument was made about how customers of these businesses perceive this approach to
marketing and brand formulation and management. We learned, for instance that a majority of
hotel bookings are made over the internet (38.6% in 2006), which exceeded the share of travel
agents in 2005. This share reached approximately 45% in 2010. The number of reservations
made via hotel owned websites has also increased briskly. Hotel branded websites went up from
having 75% of Internet reservations in 2005 to 81% in 2006 (Mintel International Group, 2007).
According to Lanz, Fischhof, and Lee (2010) interactive marketing will comprise 21% of all
marketing spending by 2014, and social media will represent 3% to 6% of the interactive
marketing spend. If the above numbers are anything to go by, it is only logical to assume that
social media will continue to grow as part of the hospitality industry landscape. According to
Kasavana (2008) in order for better business outcomes companies need to continually use social
media for monitoring, analyzing and evaluating customer reviews. In order to avoid inaccurate
information and negative publicity businesses will have to come up with digital media policies to
safeguard them. Just like any other technology social media should be embraced with proper
planning and rigorous guidelines for maximum success.
Since most goods and services offered by the hospitality industry are experiential in
nature, it is hard to predict their quality before the purchase. This makes the role of consumer
review even more important for first timers or potential customers (Crotts, 1999). Companies
that promote satisfied customers to share their experiences on web-based, company approved
social networking platforms are more likely to draw new customers (Hardin, and Kim 2010).
Also companies that address negative reviews retain dissatisfied customers; promote a positive
impact on the word-of-mouth and also improve their bottom line performance. According to
Fornell and Wernfelt (1987) it is cheaper to retain existing customers satisfied than finding new
ones. Since social media facilitates greater interaction between customers and company
representatives, hospitality businesses today have more opportunities than ever before to respond
promptly and effectively to customer complaints.
Recommendations for Future Research
There is a lot that is unknown about the impact on customers of social media used by
businesses. This study likely is just a beginning. In addition, because this field changes so
quickly, this paper is also immediately out of date! That is one of the problems with this field, ie.
it won’t stand still to be studied. As a result, there is a great deal of opportunity for research in
this field. Researchers should study, for instance how hotels can counter the negative effects of
consumer evaluation process. While hotels are reaping innumerous benefits with social media,
all of it comes with a price- a loss of control. Companies may be subjected to negative publicity
if they are not always closely monitoring consumer activity on their social networking sites
(Dwivedi, Shibu, and Venkatesh, 2007). In order to counter this problem a few hotels have put
up full-time dedicated personnel just to monitor customer content to address and resolve issues
brought up via all social networking sites (Elliot, 2006).
It is not just businesses that face challenges; even customers need to be aware of false
reviews put up by companies. In many instances businesses have used their own employees or
promoters to write good reviews for themselves, and negative reviews for their competitors
(Pogue, 2009). A full proof means of establishing authenticity of reviews on social media
websites will therefore be very beneficial for customers. For instance amazon.com requires users
to have an account on Yahoo or Hotmail before they create a new Amazon.com account.
Another suggestion to counter this problem was to register user accounts with their credit cards
since it would make it difficult for a single user to hold two accounts (Monsonhaefel, 2003)
however there still are recurring incidences with false reviews that need to be addressed in future
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